China’s government has made it very clear in recent years that online poker is not something they want Chinese citizens to be getting involved in. In order to prevent online poker operators from targeting Chinese nationals, the government has gone to great lengths. The story of Boyaa’s frozen assets and its imprisoned CEO are just the latest chapters in a worrying story which has seen poker ruthlessly attacked by the Chinese government.
Bank account seizure
Just a few days ago, online game developer Boyaa Interactive felt the full force of the Chinese government’s displeasure when a court in China froze all of their assets. The US$88 million seizure appears to be part of a response to Boyaa offering poker to its customers. This financial attack follows the jailing of company CEO and Chairman Zhang Wei one year ago. The conviction he received was for bribes by entitlement and he was imprisoned for 12 months and fined US$348,000. Wei appealed his conviction last year, but it was upheld by China’s Higher People’s Court.
As a result of the ongoing stern action by China, Boyaa’s revenue and player traffic has fallen significantly and the future of the company is not looking bright. With this in mind, it would not be a surprise to see Boyaa step away from the poker market entirely. The likelihood of this outcome no doubt increases given the fact that the frozen company funds could yet be confiscated by the Chinese government.
Boyaa has already had a difficult two years since initial crackdowns by the Chinese government which outlawed Texas Hold’em. Despite those difficulties, Boyaa organised a live poker festival in Taiwan earlier this year and seems to harbour hopes of bouncing back from the difficulties it has faced.
The aftermath of the crackdown
April 2018 saw the Chinese government declare war on online poker, with applications offering poker being subject to a ban. App stores were forced to remove poker apps from their stores and promoting poker through social media was also banned. Ourgame, who was the parent company of the WPT ceased poker operations in the immediate aftermath of the legal changes. Tencent, who own the rights to the WSOP brand in China and is the sixth largest internet company by revenue, also moved their operations away from poker.
China is in theory, a no-go area for virtually all online poker companies since the crackdown.
The situation is reminiscent of that which is faced by US players. Just like after Black Friday, several options remain available to Chinese players – either private games on applications or international poker sites located offshore. This latest arrest and assets seizure is just the latest step in China’s continued vigilance and determination to stop poker gaining a foothold in China. But the pattern we see everywhere in the world is that full bans are only efficient in pushing players into unregulated poker sites.
Article by Craig Bradshaw